It’s Saturday 19th September. I’m at a black and white themed 40th birthday party. The star of the show looks a million dollars. She’s parading around the Buzz Fitness Club, in Keyworth, in her sexy, new Karen Millen outfit. The good lady doesn’t look forty. The Reaper and Gormhead often say that I’ve punched above my weight.
It occurs to me, whilst sipping another pint of Guinness, that something quite remarkable has happened tonight, something that will probably never happen again until my wake. The following characters are all in the same room: Mrs P, Sticky junior, The Skipper, The Nuclear Scientist, The Taxman, The Taxlady, The Factory Manager, The Architect, The Reaper, The Comedian, Taggart, Gormhead, Jam Fool Chulan, Cooperman, The Angler, JK, and a sober-looking Trumpy Bolton.
One person is missing. He’s lying in bed, brushing flaky pastry from his Pukka pie, off his duvet. The big lump of lard is watching X-Factor. He claims to have left his black and white suit at the dry cleaners. Mrs P has black-balled him. His name is White Van Man. He is a let down.
Scouting for Notts County youth has begun to take over my life. It’s becoming obsessive. I signed more players in the last two weeks than Harry Redknapp. I’m taking the piss in Leicester. Nobody seems to scout it. It’s one of the most multi-cultural cities in England.
Is there room in my life for both groundhopping and scouting? Mrs P says not. I keep turning up player after player. It’s like a gambler having a run of consecutive good hands at Poker.
I’ve already spent Monday night down the training ground, when I get the call to ask if I’d mind popping down to Northampton to watch a lad. I must have typed in a wrong letter on the Sat Nav. I ended up nowhere near the ground. Northampton Spencer beat St Neots 3-2. I can’t half pick em readers.
It’s Saturday morning. I’m still chuckling away to myself about last night’s events. I took a call from a giggling Sticky junior. He’d found a tramp fast asleep on a park bench up ‘The Rec.’ He couldn’t rouse the poor old bugger. I got him to check that it wasn’t Trumpy Bolton. “How will I know Dad?” “Just check for any empty Carlsberg Special Brew cans” I replied.
He sensibly called the police to get the guy checked-out and moved on. Apparently old Plod weren’t too chuffed. They were sharing a flask of tea and doing the Daily Sport crossword in a lay- by down some country lane, when they took the call.
Mrs P asks if I would like some crumpet. It’s a bit early, but hey, why not? It tastes so much better with some butter and Marmite on it.
Mrs P and the kids have gone to Nottingham shopping. I’m left with strict instructions to clean the bathroom and wash the ‘Rolls Royce.’ It’s 9.01am. I drop Trumpy a text. He’s just opening his first can of the day and is replenishing two empty one litre plastic bottles with some cider. Oh dear.
I’m outside Trumpy’s and White Van Man’s house at 11.30pm on the dot. Trumpy flies out the traps. He has a Sainsbury’s carrier bag full of goodies and I don’t mean chocolate bars and biscuits readers. He’s already cracked off three tins.
Trumpy is in full flow. He excitedly tells us he’s booked his Christmas and New Year holiday in Inverness and Aviemore. Skiing is not on the agenda. He’s more interested in the off-piste activities that the Scottish ski resorts have to offer.
We all have a squabble about which road to take. Trumpy and I prefer the scenic route through Chesterfield, although Trumpy later admits he prefers this route as he often nips into a sex shop in Brampton to buy a few ‘gadgets.’
Trumpy is waxing lyrical about the sea blue sky and rolling Derbyshire countryside on our way to the High Peak. Bruiser phones in to see if Heart FM is on the car radio. He’s told in no uncertain terms that we’ve got on the Jonathan Ross Show on Radio 2.
I ask Trumpy if he prefers premium lager, real ale or cider. He replies that he will drink ‘anything.’
New readers to this blog will be unaware with Trumpy’s sole aim in life. It is to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England. Today he is taking us to the delightful village of Mellor, in Greater Manchester. We will be dining at the Oddfellows Arms.
We pile into the pub.WVM has a blackcurrant and soda, Trumpy a Timothy Taylors and Sticky has a pint of Copper Dragon from the Skipton Brewery.
Trumpy treats us to lunch. He has sausage and mash, WVM a steak sandwich and The Groundhopper a breakfast sandwich. The landlord supports Hyde United. Trumpy comments that the club were wound up in the High Court on Thursday.
We’re soon into the bustling town of New Mills. It has a population of 10,000. It is well known for its cotton and paper mills. Sweet manufacturer, Swizzels Matlow is the town’s biggest employer. Their brands include: ‘Refresher’ chews, ‘Drum Sticks’ Parma Violets and WVM’s favourite: Love Hearts.
A line from the indie band Half Man Half Biscuit goes: “No frills, handy for the hills, that’s the way you spell New Mills.”
WVM pays me in. It’s £1.50 for what looks to be a quality programme (sadly I let this fall out my pocket on a garage forecourt, and never get the chance to read it).
Trumpy doesn’t hang around and heads straight for the bar. Sticky Palms is taking a few snaps when he’s suddenly pounced upon by a couple of friendly New Mills officials. One is the secretary the other the website editor. What a pair of friendly chaps they turn out to be.
Incredibly, New Mills notched up 104 points last season and yet still failed to gain promotion. I can see this still rankles with these guys. It doesn’t help that I mention I visited Glossop North End for an FA Vase game. The name Glossop is greeted like I’ve spilt out an obscenity.
I’m introduced to Sue, the football secretary. She is a wonderful lady. Her dulcet tones remind me of the comedian Victoria Wood. There’s no doubting her passion for the Club. She tells me about the £40,000 they invested in a drainage system for the pitch, after I’ve remarked how impressed I am with the playing surface.
The Millers are treating me like royalty. WVM and Trumpy look on in envy as Sue orders me a complimentary can of Coke from the bar.
Today’s visitors are former Football League team Nelson from Lancashire. Famous people born in the town include: Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan, Life on Mars actor John Simm and the TV antiques expert Eric Knowles.
Sticky has fallen in love with New Mills’ Church Lane ground and their people already. The view out into the hills is breathtaking. Set on top of the hill with spectacular views of Kinder Scout, Stockport and Manchester is New Mills Golf Club.
The Millers have drafted in a couple on loan from Northwich Victoria. They scored twice in the last five minutes on Tuesday. Nelson are mid table with no real form. Today looks to be a home banker.
New Mills kick down an awesome slope and into the wind. They miss a gift wrapped opportunity inside 30 seconds. Nelson come storming back up the hill. Their Number 10, Ashley Higgins, screws a shot hopelessly wide with just the ‘keeper to beat.
The game is enthralling and the company is charming. Sticky loves the north west. It must be a dream to scout up here.
Nelson are quite direct but their attack is powder puff. The chances start to stack up for the Millers. Nelson keeper’ Chris Thompson pulls off a series of saves.
New Mills take the lead on 30 minutes with skipper Carlos Meakin smashing the ball home following a cross from the right.
Nelson are hanging on the ropes waiting for the half time whistle. Unfortunately for them, on loan striker, Cayne Handley seizes onto a through ball and makes it 2-0.
Trumpy is already in the bar having his third pint of Smooth. He’s none too chuffed to hear that Leicester are losing to Preston North End.
Sue is wandering around the ground shouting out the winning raffle ticket. A crate of Becks is at stake. They have pinpointed an area close to us where the winning ticket is held. I ask for the numbers and am mortified to discover that I’m one strip away. The four year barren spell continues.
Nelson are awful in the second half, but New Mills just can’t put the game to bed. The Nelson ‘keeper is outstanding. His shirt hangs out his shorts. He looks short, stout and dumpy. His display defies belief. He’s tipping them round the post, catching corners and diving at forwards’ feet.
On 60 minutes Trumpy emerges from the bar, as they are having to change the till roll, due to his frequent purchases. He spots Sue who is taking a well earned breather having sold the entire ground a raffle ticket. He saunters across to her and engages in conversation. Lord knows what he’s saying to her.
New Mills’ 8 jacket fires a shot over the bar; it whistles past Trumpy’s head and smashes against the clubhouse window. The legend doesn’t even flinch. He’s gone all ga-ga over Sue.
We’re heading towards the exit. Trumpy and Sue have had a tearful kiss, hug and fond farewell. New Mills swing in another corner, Garry Kharas rises unchallenged to nod home.
It’s my fourth year of groundhopping, but I have to say that bar Staveley MW, New Mills is the friendliest club we’ve ever been to.
Men of the Match: Nelson ‘keeper and Trumpy Bolton.
Woman of the Match: Sue.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
It’s the summer of 1988. I’m propping up the bar of the Salutation Inn in Keyworth with The Architect; we’re both hanging. England have made an early exit from the European Championship in West Germany. I gaze across the bar, in my drunken haze, and catch the eye of a gorgeous young girl. I make a remark about her to The Architect. He pipes up that it is his cousin. Bingo.
We’ve been together for twenty one years since that day – that’s me and Mrs P, not me and The Architect. She’s enjoyed trips to Chesterfield’s Saltergate, Doncaster’s Belle Vue and Walsall’s Bescot Stadium. I’ve had to endure episode after episode of EastEnders, Casualty and Holby City. We have nothing in common.
Tomorrow, that young, drop-dead- gorgeous girl is forty years old. I’ve been racking my brains where to take her out on the night before her birthday: “Fancy Maltby Main v Bridlington Town darling?” “Ouch!!” I invite The Taxman instead.
The most heart-warming story in the last few weeks caught my eye on Paul Fletcher’s BBC blog. Stockport striker Carl Baker took the brave decision to play in their League One fixture against Yeovil, despite days earlier being told by his manager Gary Ablet that his elder brother Michael has lost his battle with leukaemia.
At the end of the game, and after having scored a goal, he was ushered over to the 200 visiting supporters, who presented him with a card that everyone in the away end had signed. This is what football’s all about. Bringing one another together and showing our depth of feeling.
Last Saturday was the first weekend for the junior football calendar. I’d already made a conscious decision to go out scouting all day and give the groundhopping the thumbs down. Apart from watching ‘The Skipper’ bag a brace it was a waste of a day for the Notts County Talent Identification Officer. I returned home to the X-Factor on TV empty-handed.
Sunday brought success in Leicester and Nottingham though. Mrs P and I celebrated with a Hardy’s Crest Chardonnay on offer at £4.99. Chin chin.
The Taxman has been convalescing over the spring and summer. He’s been itching to get back on the groundhop. After a couple of false starts, we finally agree to travel up to Maltby in South Yorkshire. Sticky’s favourite team, Bridlington Town are in town.
There’s a bad start to the evening when on starting the car up I find that Mrs P has deliberately left the dreadful Radio Trent on, to wind me up – it has the desired effect.
I pick The Taxman up at 6pm. White Van Man will be slumped in his reclining chair watching the Champions League. We drive past The Rocking Horse Nursery in Plumtree. There has been a major police investigation into an allegation of ‘unexplained injuries’ at the crèche. It has made the national news.
I’m always amused by The Taxman’s moaning and groaning but he’s strangely chipper this evening. We travel up the A614 and turn off at the delightful village of Blyth. They play in the Bassetlaw Cricket League. I remember scoring a well crafted three not out at this ground over twenty years ago. A textbook tickle down to fine leg for an easy single sticks in the mind.
We pass the historic ruin called Roche Abbey. Sticky Palms is excited but The Taxman remains unmoved. The evening hits dusk as we rock up at Muglet Lane.
The car park is full; we turn into the overspill area. We pay £5 entrance and £1 for an excellently produced programme. The Taxman immediately heads for a scruffy looking tea hut which is part of the dressing room complex.
When I think of Yorkshire I visualise that useless tosspot of an excuse for a copper – PC Ventriss off Hearbeat – brewing a pot of tea for three in the Aidensfield Police Station kitchen. Then retreating to a room with a roaring coal fire and a tin of digestives. Unfortunately Maltby Main FC fail to master the art of the brew. A teabag is hurled into the cup, with hot water fired into it. The Auctioneer would be ashamed of the actions of the Republic of South Yorkshire.
Maltby is near Rotherham and has a population of 18,000. Maltby Main Colliery is one of three collieries operating in the area. The original owner of the mine built an estate to house the colliery workers. It was called Maltby Model Village. The original shafts for the coal mine were sunk back in 1907.
Famous folk from the Maltby area include: former England fast bowler, the pipe-smoking ‘Fiery’ Fred Trueman, and Coronation Street actress Lynn Perrie (Ivy Tilsley). She could knock them back. Bill Waddington, who played the character Percy Sugden, died in a retirement home in the town centre back in 2000. Thanks to Mrs P for the Coronation Street references .
Maltby Main were formed in 1916. All players were employed at the nearby colliery. The ground is rugged and rustic. It’s exactly as it says on the tin. The pit estate borders the Muglet Road ground. A local tells me that plod don’t bother policing it. It’s that rough on the estate, even the dogs go round in pairs.
The Maltby Main under 8s have just finished a training session. There’s some whimpering and crying going off. Mums and dads console the walking wounded. I bet they tackle hard up here.
We walk past a rickety, battered old stand. There’s some top totty sat with a guy. Maybe it’s one of the famous Bridlington Town WAGS who I saw perform so impressively at Shirebrook and Dinnington last season. The team didn’t play too badly either.
Bridlington are ‘on it’ from the off. They play a beautiful game of football with pace and purpose. The Bridlington Seaside Mafia are holed up in the rickety old stand. Their amusing ditties are loud and original.
The Whistler is under pressure tonight; rumour has it that the referees’ assessor is hidden away in the stand.
Brid’s attacks are lightning fast, whether it’s down the right with Nathan Hotte or on the left with Danny Buttle. Brid open up the home defence. They’ve already seen one effort come off the woodwork, following a four man move, when they finally take the lead through Danny Burdick, who bundles the ball home after another header had come off the upright.
One becomes two on 28 minutes when Danny Buttle pounces onto a goal kick, scurries towards the Maltby goal and blasts a dipping shot under the despairing Maltby ‘keeper.
The Maltby five jacket has become a frustrated figure. He’s spent a majority of the evening squaring up to folk or kicking ale house balls into orbit. He goes straight through the back of a Brid forward and is shown an instant red. It’s Groundhopper’s first dismissal of the season.
I chat to a couple at the break who come from Underwood and Mapperley, close to where I live. The guy knows his onions and fills me in on a few of the new players I don’t recognise. His other half looks like she would have preferred to have stayed home and watched River Cottage or Property Ladder.
I also bump into ‘Paul NFFC’ from Bridlington. He is everything a non league supporter should be. I’d grow back the goatee beard though son.
The Taxman is enthralled by Bridlington Town. They are living up to their star billing. Ashley Dexter nods home a corner on 48 minutes to end the game as a serious contest. Maltby pull one back when the visitors momentarily switch off at a set piece.
The game has been on simmer since the opening moments. It all boils over on 67 minutes .Craig Burdick lunges in with a two footed tackle in the middle of the park. The challenge is a shocker. All hell breaks loose and a 22 man handbag brawl takes place for the first time ever in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire. The referee blows his whistle for the entire one minute, like a school dinner lady does when there’s a playground scrap. The referee correctly dismisses Burdick and a Maltby player.
The referee, under the watchful eye of the assessor, is dishing out more cards than Mrs P will get for her 40th birthday tomorrow. The slightest ankle tap, foul or moan or groan is greeted with a yellow. He misses fouls after the ball has gone, blatant shirt pulls and doesn’t like to play advantage. He’ll be reffing Maltby Main under 8s on Saturday, at this rate.
Maltby captain, Lee Mellon gives the referee little option but to dismiss him from the field of play for dissent. It’s a straight red. One more sending off for Maltby will see the game abandoned by the referee.
Jack Wilkinson had already made it 4-1 on the hour. Bridlington Town have been peppering the Maltby goal since the melee. Right on time Town’s best player on the night, Frankie Belt, strikes the ball from distance. It can only be helped into the net by the Maltby ‘keeper, who on this evidence, would struggle to catch a cold tonight.
We talk about the match on our 50 mile drive home. We chew the crud over a pint in the Rose and Crown in Cotgave. In forty years of watching football, I’ve never seen events unfold like this. Standard Liege versus Arsenal – you are having a laugh!!
Man of the Match: Frankie B
Attendance: 63 (26 Seaside Mafia)
Saturday, September 5, 2009
We’re driving back home from Basford United’s ground. The Groundhopper’s mood has darkened with the news that Lincoln City have been trounced by Dagenham and Redbridge. ‘The Skipper’ says he’d like to pop up ‘The Rec’ to watch some cricket.
We drive up Nottingham Road; there’s not a soul in sight. We must have been skittled out. We cruise up to the Salutation Inn. All the players will be getting sozzled. Nobody is in the pub. I phone up Bobby. He delivers the devastating news: all ten strips on the wicket have been dug up by vandals. Somebody didn’t want the game to be played. Mmmm.
The Twenty20 game on Bank Holiday Monday is in doubt. A willing army of volunteers give up their family time on a Sunday to repair the wicket with a broken-hearted groundsman. The pitch is turned around 90 degrees.
Sticky junior and I are on opposite sides. I stroll into bat and nurdle the ball down to third man for an easy single. Junior is bowling his final over. I finally get on strike. He has three balls left. The ball loops out of his hand. The Groundhopper plays down the Bakerloo Line, unfortunately the ball travels down the Waterloo Line.
I hear the death rattle click as the ball clips the bail. I walk back to the pavilion a disconsolate and sorrowful soul. The little rat has got me out two years in a row.
It’s a busy week. I have to ref a very ring rusty ‘Skipper’s’ team on Wednesday. On Thursday I make the short trip to Cotgrave Colliery Welfare to watch Notts County U15’s.
I don’t fall out my pit until 8.30am on Saturday morning. I had a few real ales with ‘The Nuclear Scientist’ last night. I smashed him out of sight at table tennis. I won the final game 21-19. He lost his temper and crushed the ping pong ball.
I broached the subject of my day ahead with Mrs P a few days ago. I was nervous to say the least. ‘Erm love, I’ll be leaving at 10am and won’t be back until 6pm. It was met with a wall of silence. “Perhaps we can watch X-Factor later this evening together?” It was a last gasp conciliatory throw of the dice. I think she fell for it.
I drive up the A60. A boy has been pestering me for weeks to go and watch him. I am as soft as shit and don’t want to let him down. I turn left down the A38. Danny Baker has a new phone-in on Five Live. The guy is a genius. His wit is razor-sharp. His callers are intelligent and comical.
I finally arrive in Sutton-In-Ashfield. The boy is way too tense. He knows I’m here. He tries too hard and is not on top of his game. It will be a ‘we’ll monitor his progress’ call. He’s not quite what we are looking for.
I’ve three hours to kill. I stop off in Mansfield Woodhouse and grab some snap at a local bakery. A steak pie, a cream iced bun and a diet coke are just the cure for a ravenous Groundhopper. I take a peek at the Manor Sports Complex to see if any games are being played but the place is deserted. It’s the same story at the impressive John Fretwell Centre. Although they are spinning up a coin for Bassetlaw League cricket match.
I drive through the village of Spion Kop. It’s named after a hill in South Africa, which was the scene of a battle in the Second Boer War. Football grounds used to name their terracing after the steep hill at Ladysmith, in South Africa where the battle took place. I know readers; I’m a fountain of knowledge (Wikipedia).
It’s been a wasted morning; you sometimes get days like these when you are scouting for youth. The good days outweigh the bad ones. At least I’ve got the Church Warsop v Bentley Colliery game to look forward to.
I park on the edge of the village, close to the river and church. Some fool is getting married. Fathers and sons fish the river. Sticky Palms takes a few snaps.
Church Warsop is one mile north of Warsop. It has a population of just over 2000 people. It was built in the 1930s by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company to house colliery workers and their families who worked at the nearby Warsop Colliery.
Sporting stars from the area include Notts and England wicket keeper, Bruce French and former Everton full back, Neil Pointon.
As I rock up on ‘The Fronts’ I notice to my right the old pit houses. They are dilapidated and in a state of disrepair. A pimped up Astra pulls up opposite ‘Sally Gunnell.’ Two houses are boarded up and abandoned. Sticky Palms puts the Krooklock on ‘Sally Gunnell.’
Sticky Junior phones me up. He’s loitering round Nottingham city centre. He’s laughing like a mad man down the phone. I ask him what’s his beef? He replies that he’s bought the ‘Big Issue’ off ‘some nutter.’
I have a quick mosey up the road. The Church Warsop Miners Welfare has been closed down and put up for sale. Good old Margaret Thatcher has killed another community.
It’s an hour before kick- off. I’m not too keen on strolling into a local hostelry around here and ordering a diet Coke. I listen to Radio Nottingham, instead, for half an hour. They have intriguing interviews with Notts County Chief Executive, Peter Trembling and Director of Cricket at Nottinghamshire CCC, Mick Newell.
They’re just setting up the trestles at the gate as I stroll up to the ground. A concrete fence hides the playing surface. It’s £2 admission and £1 for a very well edited programme. I’m the only paying spectator in the ground.
Two boys are playing football in the goalmouth. They start chattering away to me. They’re both ten years old. One is called Nathan, the other Charlie. They sound like Billy Casper off the film Kes. What a pair of chatterboxes they turn out to be. They amuse The Groundhopper.
They tell me that Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright Phillips both play for Church Warsop. When the teams trot out for a warm-up I see what they mean as they have a couple of dead ringers for the Chelsea pair.
Nathan and Charlie’s constant chitter-chatter has worn poor old Sticky Palms out. I retire to the Refreshment Bar. The lady in there is also up for a chat. What a friendly bunch they are up at Church Warsop.
I stand to the left of the Bentley Colliery dugout. The South Yorkshire team kick down the hill in the first period. I spot almost immediately that have a selected 4-5-1 formation. They have a nice balance about them and keep the ball on the carpet.
‘Shaun Wright Phillips’ has pace to burn. The Bentley full back is no slouch himself, but struggles to contain the wee man.
Bentley hit the crossbar with a glancing header from Devine. He doesn’t waste a second opportunity five minutes later. ‘Tilly’ flights a ball in from the right touchline, Devine peels off a ball-watching defender, takes a deft touch and smashes the ball into the bottom corner of the net.
But former Shirebrook Town forward, Simon Johnson, is a constant menace. Bentley Colliery struggle to cope with his movement. He makes no mistake from close range on the stroke of half-time.
I avoid Nathan, Charlie and the Refreshment Bar at the break. They’ve all worn me out. A groundhopper from Chesterfield comes ambling towards me. We exchange pleasantries for a short while.
Church Warsop replace their goalkeeper. He came out the worse from a 50/50 challenge earlier in the game. Their balding centre half takes over in between the sticks.
On 50 minutes I text Mrs P to see if Strictly Come Dancing is on TV tonight. She replies with a negative.
Church Warsop play a better game down the hill. The Bentley midfield look fagged out and fail to support their lone striker. ‘Tilly’ does hit the base of the post but they spend most of the second half pegged back.
The home team take the lead. Good work by the busy Johnson finds the ball at the feet of Daniel McLane, who strokes the ball home.
There is a frenetic finale. With two minutes to go the referee awards a penalty on the linesman’s say-so. The Bentley bench are furious. One individual, particularly, lets himself down. The resulting penalty is brilliantly saved by the Bentley ‘keeper.
A minute later another penalty is awarded to the home team. The reaction of the Bentley dugout is indescribable. Full marks to their charming and articulate manager, Mick Devine, for defusing the situation. Simon Johnson steps up and puts the game beyond doubt.
Bentley Colliery are furious with the officials. As a neutral I have to say that I thought the ref did quite well. He tried to give advantage where possible. His only downfall was failing to punish the Church Warsop players for constantly kicking the ball away in an effort to waste time.
Man of the Match: Nathan and Charlie.